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Acute Silicosis

  • Definition

    Silicosis is a lung disease. It is caused by breathing dust that contains crystalline silica. In acute silicosis, the disease occurs after weeks or months of exposure to very high levels of the silica. This is a serious condition. Contact your doctor immediately if you think you may have it.
  • Causes

    Crystalline silica can be found in:
    • Concrete
    • Masonry
    • Sandstone
    • Rock
    • Paint
    • Other abrasives
    • Soil
    • Mortar
    • Plaster
    • Shingles
    When these materials are cut, broken, crushed, drilled, ground, or blasted, silica dust may be produced. When silica dust gets into the air you breathe, it may become trapped in your lungs. The dust buildup damages your lungs. More dust will create more damage. This will make it hard for you to breathe.
    Pathway to Lungs
    Respiratory Pathway
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  • Risk Factors

    Working in the following occupations increases your chance of acute silicosis:
    • Sandblasting (the most common cause of acute silicosis)
    • Construction
    • Wrecking and demolition
    • Abrasive blasting
    • Masonry
    • Concrete finishing
    • Drywall finishing
    • Rock drilling
    • Stone milling or cutting
    • Mining
    • Sand and gravel screening
    • Rock crushing (for road base)
    • Agriculture
    • Ceramics, clay, pottery
    • Glass manufacturing
    • Vitreous enameling of china plumbing fixtures
    • Manufacturing of soaps and detergents
    • Shipyards, railroads
  • Symptoms

    Symptoms may appear within a few weeks to 2 years after exposure:
    • Shortness of breath
    • Severe cough
    • Weakness
    • Fever
    • Weight loss
    • Night sweats
    • Chest pains
    • Respiratory failure
  • Diagnosis

    Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. You will also be asked about your work history. A physical exam will be done. Tests may include the following:
    Peak Flow Meter—Pulmonary Function Test
    Lung test
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  • Treatment

    There is no specific treatment for silicosis. If you have acute silicosis, you will be advised to avoid additional exposure. Your doctor may also treat other conditions associated with acute silicosis. These may include blockage or airway narrowing. You will also be advised to stop smoking.
  • Prevention

    To help reduce your chance of silicosis:
    • Avoid working in dust whenever possible.
    • Use water sprays and ventilation when working in confined structures.
    • If applicable, wear a mask or respirator designed for protection against crystalline silica and the type of job you do.
      • Your employer may provide the mask.
      • You cannot have a beard or mustache if you use certain types of tight-fitting respiratory masks.
    • Take advantage of health screenings offered by your employer.
    • Practice good personal hygiene in the workplace.
    • Do not eat, drink, or use tobacco near dusty areas.
    • After exposure to dust, wash your hands before eating, drinking, or smoking.
    • Park your car where it will not become contaminated.
    • Shower and change before leaving work.

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health

    Occupational Safety & Health Administration


    Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety

    The Lung Association


    Silicosis. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: Updated May 2014. Accessed May 4, 2016.

    Silicosis: Learn the facts! National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health website. Available at: Updated June 6, 2014. Accessed May 4, 2016.Interstitial lung disease. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated March 4, 2016. Accessed May 4, 2016.

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